Often the worst scandals are ones that have become engrained as business as usual within an organization or a society, not entirely accepted but tolerated by the Old Boys Network in command, like racial segregation, anti-Semitism, bias against women or in the case of the Vatican, pedophilia.
No one's suggesting that child rape is to the Catholic Church hierarchy what the casting couch is to a Hollywood producer one of the job's expected side benefits but it is troubling that the chief reaction to new revelations about the sexual abuse of boys by Catholic priests was to rally in defense of Pope Benedict XVI.
If the Vatican truly took the under-age rape charges as seriously as it should and they have been spilling out now for several decades there would have been a full-scale investigation and a purging of Church officials who had any role in tolerating or covering up these crimes. In the vernacular, many heads would roll, including those of senior Vatican leaders.
Yet, one of the leaders implicated in the cover-up is Pope Benedict, both when he was German Archbishop Joseph Ratzinger and later when he served as chief of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.
Ratzinger was in charge of the German archdiocese when an abusive priest was allowed to get some counseling and quickly resettle in another parish (though the Vatican claims Ratzinger's subordinate was to blame). The pope also was in charge of Church discipline when an ailing Wisconsin priest who had abused 200 deaf boys was spared defrocking.
In both cases and in the broader failure to conduct aggressive investigations Benedict appears to have adopted the same attitude that pervaded many other parts of the Church, one of sympathy for the offending priests and defensiveness toward "attacks" on the Church.
As the outside world has looked on with horror at the endless accounts of child molestation, the main Church response has been to tighten the protective circle around the Vatican and especially Pope Benedict. Despite some words of regret about the rape victims, the Vatican's angrier reactions have been directed against those who would dare question the pope.
This distorted world even led one senior Vatican official to cast Benedict and other prelates in the role of persecuted Jews, even though the Vatican as an institution played a shameful role in the history of European anti-Semitism.
During a Good Friday service at the Vatican, Rev. Raniero Cantalamessa, preacher to the papal household, likened the outrage over Catholic priests molesting boys to pogroms against Jews.
"They [Jews] know from experience what it means to be victims of collective violence and also because of this they are quick to recognize the recurring symptoms," Cantalamessa said at St. Peter's Basilica with Pope Benedict sitting silently in attendance.
In other words, according to Cantalamessa's historical analogy, the people around the world who are outraged over the sexual abuse of children and the Vatican's long-term neglect of the scandal are the Nazis, and Pope Benedict and his Vatican brethren who continue to live in almost unparalleled luxury are the Jews being herded into concentration camps.
As New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd noted, "It's insulting to liken the tragic death of six million Jews with the appropriate outrage of Catholics at the decades-long cover-up of crimes against children by the very men who were supposed to be their moral guides."
While Benedict has offered tepid apologies for the scandal, he also has dismissed outrage over the scandal as "petty gossip." He has shown no sign of reining in his defenders as they shift the blame from the Pope onto his critics.
Beyond the issue of Benedict's personal responsibility, there are questions about the Vatican itself. Why wasn't the Church more proactive? Why has it consistently devoted more energy to deflecting the blame than to addressing these serious crimes?
Indeed, until the last two decades of the Twentieth Century when victims finally banded together to expose the crimes, child-rape cases were treated almost exclusively as internal Church matters, deserving of rebukes and penance, but not priest perp walks and prosecution by civil authorities.
Part of the answer may be that the Vatican is the ultimate Old Boys Club, dating back two millennia and renowned for its internal secrecy. Thus, some patterns of behavior, even deviant forms, may have become an unspoken part of the clandestine culture for so many generations that the greater shock for the Vatican would be that this behavior is finally being challenged.
For centuries the Church would not have expected class-action lawsuits by otherwise-powerless boys, who had little choice but to suffer their humiliation in private or to face angry denials if they dared besmirch the reputation of a well-regarded priest.
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